Violent crime falling in Oxford

Oxford streets are getting safer despite several high-profile violent crimes this month, local and national police statistics show.

Almost a third fewer assaults have taken place in Oxford this year compared to the same period in 2009.

And violent crime in the city centre has dropped by 20 percent in the past year, according to figures from the Thames Valley Police.

The numbers for assaults include last month’s reported incidents, though this month’s figures are not yet available. Last May, 128 cases of assault were reported in Oxford.

A spokesperson for Thames Valley Police said: “I’d like to reassure our student communities that, despite the recent high profile incidents, Oxford is still a very safe place.”

Nick Hyett, a first year at Christ Church, said Oxford seems safe compared to his hometown of Slough. But crime here is “definitely worse than it was” when he arrived eight months ago, he said.

The numbers tell a different story. There have been fewer, not more, reported assaults as this academic year progressed, with a high of 111 reported incidents in November and a low of 64 in April.

But dramatic attacks in areas popular with students have stoked misplaced fears that the city is in the grips of a crime spree.

This month at least two Oxford University students were seriously beaten in street altercations, a 22-year-old man was stabbed to death early in the month outside Que Pasa in the city centre, and the body of a 35-year-old man was found in the River Isis near Folly Bridge.

These headline-grabbing incidents are tragic, but may also inflate a “paranoia that is totally unnecessary”, says former Leeds police officer Laura Bouttell, who is now a second year English student at Harris Manchester College.

“What people tend to think is that criminals are organized and these things are targeted. What they fail to understand is that criminals are very opportunistic.”

Bouttell said crime levels in Oxford did not seem out of the ordinary.

That does not mean Oxford is particularly safe. While violent crime in the greater Oxford area has not risen significantly in the past few years, according to Home Office data, rates of violent crime are about 60 percent above 2002 levels –– though crime in general has fallen slightly.

Between April 2008 and March 2009, Oxford police reported 4,516 incidents of violent crime, a category which includes minor assaults and more serious offences like attempted murder. Peterborough, which with an estimated population of 164,000 is a similar size as Oxford, had 3,576 reports of violent crime over that same period.

Annie Papineau, a visiting American student, said she feels comfortable in Oxford but is surprised by the recent reports of deaths: “I feel decently safe here minus the whole people getting thrown into rivers or getting shot or stabbed.”

Oxford police work closely with the University to ensure the safety of the student population, with dedicated University officers and regular patrols, said Superintendent Amanda Pearson, the police commander for Oxford.

Bouttell, the former police officer, advised students to “be vigilant and be aware” as a matter of course, especially after a night out: “Common sense applies at 3 AM more than at 4 PM.”